A slow-burning mafia crime drama in homage to Le Samourai
A slow-burning homage to Jean-Pierre Melville's Le Samouraï, Salvo uses the familiar trope of a stone-cold killer (Saleh Bakri) who falls for a female character connected to one of his victims. This time round it's blind woman Rita (Sara Serraiocco), sister and housemate to the man who arranged an ambush on Salvo's mafia employer.
There's lots to love about Salvo. The sudden, brutal action sequences are shot with a cold distance reminiscent of Matteo Garrone's Gomorrah, while a lengthy scene in which Salvo silently infiltrates Rita's home is a masterclass in sustained, tension-building shots. The audience are often put in Rita's position, with impeccable sound design playing an integral part in portraying her perception of the world: when Salvo eventually finds his prey, the camera stays on a panicked Rita as she hears the struggle in the next room. Serraiocco's performance is twitchy, her face contorted with fear – an effective departure from the often far-too-serene countenances of blind characters on film.
Sadly, where writer-director team Fabio Grassadonia and Antonio Piazza succeed with Rita (a character they've partly developed from a prior short film), they fail with Salvo. Their shark-eyed assassin is so firmly established as blank and merciless that any subsequent humanising of his character falls flat. He even befriends a mistreated neighbourhood dog – the hoariest of 'hitman with a heart of gold' cliches. For a film with so much good in it, it's a shame the central character fails to hit the mark.
Reviewed as part of the Glasgow Film Festival. Selected release from Fri 21 Mar.